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Rockin' and Roilin' the Waters

February 10, 2011 By:
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Ari Gold has a real entourage, and it's made of up of kings and queens.

Well, his title is Sir, which explains the kings, and as far as the rest of the royal retinue is concerned, Gold has gotten sterling support from the gay community he is part of.

But the Orthodox?

A rocker who courts men in black from different dimensions of the spiritual and the spinning, Gold is a former yeshiva bucher bucking stereotypes. Hailed as a pioneer for coming out as a gay recording artist in 2000 at a time when even his best-wishers thought it was wise to lock the closet door and turn out the light before his sparkling potential would fizz out, Gold has confounded critics and commanded respect -- and maybe the envy of Mel Brooks -- by keeping it gay and galvanizing.

Before he could lay some tracks on the public, it was a matter of laying some tefillin on the family. Indeed, it was 29 years ago, at age 5, that Gold first minted his musical mettle, performing at his brother Elon's Bar Mitzvah, later joining both Elon and other older brother Steven -- Elon's a prominent Orthodox comic who recently appeared at Glenside's Keswick Theater; oldest sibling Steve is a Grammy-winning keyboardist best known for work with Fountains of Wayne -- in making waves as kid entertainers.

 

A pooled talent? "If there was a Jewish holiday, the Gold boys would get together to entertain at the seder table," the Bronx-bred singer recalls, "singing everything in three-part harmony."

As kids, they were part-family, part-phenom -- nabbing top prize at the Jewish Children's Song Festival.

Surely, that achievement was no precursor for the explicitly gay love lyrics ("Make My Body Rock") that would years later add luster to Ari's list of hits, including his eponymous debut album, as well as the subsequent "I'm All About You."

What's it all about, Ari?

"Walking the line between 'the spirit and the flesh' " -- also the name of his latest album (arigold.com) -- has always fascinated him, concedes the Modern Orthodox unorthodox stylist, whose mix of R&B/rock rages through standard and eclectic play lists.

"It definitely is very difficult to be in show business and be Orthodox," which, in a way, has been a dichotomy dictating a lifelong learning tool for the former back-up singer for Diana Ross, who had the supreme luck to provide voices for Cabbage Patch Kids commercials.

Heritage 'Air-Brushed'
Although there was a time when some producers advised he'd be better heard and not seen -- Gold's attire possibly being a distraction. Give him a chai-five? Not those guys. "I was told to put away my chai [on shoots] and, at times, was asked to have it photoshopped out."

But coming out in the rock world of 2000 as a gay Jewish standard-barer bore chutzpah as well. "Bashert" -- meant to be -- meant more than just the name of a 2003 release. "I like to honor my heritage; as anyone on a spiritual path knows, it's a journey, and a lot of people can relate to that."

But could audiences relate to keeping it gay? "The interesting thing is how much of a lack of representation there is" of the gay perspective in music, he says.

Madonna's early flaunts of pan-gender sensuality were like a virgin going against the industry's hard-core, common-sense attitude that a singer's "gaydar" could be radioactive for sales. "At the end of the day, it's all a business," says Gold.

"There is a real fear ... people are scared that" rockin' and roilin' the waters with gay-themed music "is not relatable to the masses."

But freedom to be you and me -- and Ari? "Anyone can relate to freedom," he maintains is the music's real appeal.

Not such a hard sell to the Jewish community as it turns out, although Gold's goal is not exactly to focus on the Orthodox. "Judaism is a pretty supportive religion," he says of acceptance of alternative lifestyles.

It hasn't been the Garden of Eden but having Adam on his side has helped. Adam Lambert, a past "American Idol" runner-up, never made bones about being gay nor denied his Jewish background on the way to a prosperous and preening career.

"It's great that someone so talented and confident had the 'American Idol' platform to show what he had in him," concedes Gold.

"Having Adam out there helps me as an artist," he adds.

As well as do Ari's parents and brothers as backup singers of high praise. But, "in real life," Ari whispers kiddingly, "I don't think Elon's all that funny."

What's funny is Ari's actual title of "Sir." It won't get him invited to any roundtables, but it does square him with members of the gay community: The appellation was accorded by the Imperial Court of New York during its fun-raising effort on behalf of AIDS prevention, "The Night of a Thousand Gowns."

The title suits Gold well, even if it is more metal than shtetl.

But for the singer's mother, it's all about his shining armor.

"It's a title, and that pleases her," he laughs.

But of course, she at one time was hoping for a different professional prefix before her son's Sir name.

And what did Mom wish for?

"Cantor," sighs Gold.


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